Japanese inventor of blue LED files suit against former firm over patents, profits


The developer of the blue light-emitting diode filed a suit Thursday against his former employer, demanding 2 billion yen and recognition that the patent on the semiconductor belongs to him.

Shuji Nakamura, now a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, filed the suit at the Tokyo District Court against Nichia Corp., where he worked as an engineer until 1999, saying the company earned unreasonable profits through its exclusive use of the patent for the blue LED.

The suit is unique because the credit for the patent is being contested between an outside researcher who was hired by the company and his former employer.

Nichia said the firm believes it will be proven right in the litigation.

The development of the blue LED by Nakamura in 1993 received worldwide attention because it was vital for developing a short-length laser for a new generation of high-capacity digital versatile discs.

According to the petition, Nakamura succeeded in developing the world’s first blue LED in 1993 while he was working as chief engineer for the Tokushima Prefecture-based company. Nakamura reportedly used a catalyst of Gallium nitride, which was considered a dead end by many, to produce a constant blue light at room temperature that was as bright as emissions in the red spectrum.

The company obtained about 80 patents concerning the LED and increased its profits until Nakamura left the company in 1999. Upon his departure, Nakamura said he was dissatisfied with the constraints his employer had imposed on him and its lack of recognition of his achievements.

Nakamura argues that he developed the blue LED by himself and against the company’s orders to cease his work, but that the company made exclusive use of the patent to reap a profit of at least ¥2 billion.

In Japan, developers of new technologies who are hired by companies are often paid very little when the company files a patent.

Nakamura was given 10,000 yen for each patent when they were filed, and when they were obtained.

He is now a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering and a consultant for Cree Inc., a U.S.-based manufacturer of semiconductor materials.

Nichia is jockeying for position as markets for products that incorporate these technologies — from cellphone displays to new-generation DVDs — are about to take flight.

The suit could delay the arrival of DVD players that can record up to 10 hours of video and audio information by months, sources said.

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